It all began so innocently—just like a child’s toy should. Just three Barbies (or two Barbies and their black friend?), preparing to watch a documentary about ... themselves.
Actually, to be specific, they were preparing to watch Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, a new Hulu documentary chronicling the recent diversification of the most iconic doll in history. So it stands to reason that the brand’s Instagram post promoting the documentary would feature two newer models alongside the classic blond and blue-eyed Barbie many know and love/loathe (though, to be fair, I guess they’re all blond).
But one of these things was so profoundly not like the others that the point was entirely lost to a glaring distraction: Namely, what exactly was going on with black Barbie’s hair? Was one of her friends planning to sew in the other half of her weave while they watched the movie, Rachel Dolezal-style? Was that dress—which didn’t seem to go with her hair—really a salon smock? I had questions ... and so did Black Twitter:
Love it, hate it—or, like me, just confused by it—we could only agree on one thing: Issa lewk. And because it often takes a village to reach a consensus here at The Root, an impromptu online roundtable was convened to discuss the style—and the response. (Sidenote: For the sake of journalistic integrity, I remained an impartial observer.)
Deputy Managing Editor Yesha Callahan: I kinda like her hairstyle. It’s relevant, LOL ... and up-to-date.
Contributing editor Angela Bronner Helm: The two colors are a bit much for my personal taste, but, yeah. Black women are magicians with hair.
YC: “The black doll’s hair looks half-done and carelessly put together.” Where’s the half-done? She has cornrows and some side-swoop action going on. That’s intricate as hell.
ABH: Word. ^^^
Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton: LOL, I think people are dealing with their own “respectability politics” issues with the Barbie.
ABH: I’m like, “What genius child put that together?” Or did it come from Mattel?
DB: “How dare that Barbie have hair like this girl I once saw on the bus!”
YC: Exactly. “Where’s the bob?” Umm ... when’s the last time you saw a black woman with a simple bob? GTFO. There’s always some curls and layers and stuff.
DB: Are all Barbies supposed to be bougie with white-acceptable lewks?
YC: Now, those contact lenses? They def look like the honey-colored contacts sold at the beauty supply.
DB: LOL. Making her, again, look like some chick from the bus stop heading to her job at the DMV. LET THAT WOMAN HAVE A BARBIE.
YC: LOL. Mary J. Blige would love this Barbie.
DB: Exactly. All she needs are some colorful acrylic nails.
YC: And some bamboo earrings.
ABH: Bedazzled down.
YC: At least two pair.
Staff writer Michael Harriot: Stop.
DB: A Barbie for all the round-the-way girls!
ABH: And the rest of us, too.
DB: If LL had love for them, why can’t these folks on Twitter?
MH: But I’d bet a black woman made that hairstyle.
Was Michael Harriot correct? Did a black woman make that hairstyle? I reached out not once, but twice, to the Mattel newsroom to get the scoop (because journalistic integrity). Was this doll intended to be “midweave” Barbie, “around the way” Barbie or “Afropunk” Barbie in an ironic dress? Inquiring minds wanted—no, needed—to know. So I asked, point-blank, about the intention and reasoning behind this particular doll’s design/look. Mattel responded:
The @barbiestyle channel depicts the daily activities of Barbie and showcases dolls with a variety of diverse looks, including skin tones, hairstyles and fashions. For almost 60 years, Barbie has been [a] canvas for cultural conversation. We are proud to offer the most diverse fashion doll line in the marketplace where consumers can find a doll that resonates with them. To see the full line, please visit www.Barbie.com.
I did visit, and to be fair, of the over-100 very diverse variations offered in the Fashionistas line, there are several dope representations of black hair featured, including Afro puffs, a big natural blowout, curls, twists, dye jobs, waves, perms and even a platinum low fade that is super chic.
And let’s face it: We do know the girl who has this ’do—deliberately—and while it may not translate as well in plastic, that girl looks pretty dope, too (coincidentally, this doll is also one of the brand’s “curvy” models, so, kudos for that).
But for proper context, let’s also take this doll out of that dowdy denim shirtdress (there’s a place for it, but not with this look) and give her the look Mattel originally paired with this hairstyle, because in hair and fashion, styling really is everything:
There. Feel better now? I know I do. And I gotta admit, I kind of want a life-sized version of this dress for sundress season—is that a peek of midriff I see?
But about those shoes, Barbie ...